Don’t Dabble with the God Next Door

Hawaii Idol

Joshua 23:7-8 “Do not associate with these nations that remain among you; do not invoke the names of their gods or swear by them. You must not serve them or bow down to them. But you must hold fast to the Lord your God, as you have until now.”

You probably know enough Old Testament history to know that Joshua’s warning was something of a prophecy. Israel was constantly dabbling in the religions of their neighbors. Why were these other gods so appealing? For the most part, these other religions were much more “this worldly.” The native religions of ancient Canaan were fertility cults. That meant that they were focused on the here and now. Worship was all about making a living and having a family. Do it right and your land would produce a good crop, your sheep would have lambs, and your wife would give you children. There wasn’t so much focus on the life to come which seemed so far away. Worship was about everyday life. Worship was practical.

On top of all that, worship was fun. There was none of this heavy talk about sin and forgiveness. It was supercharged with emotion. Even sex was a big part of the program. It was all designed to make you feel good. It’s not hard to see the appeal.

Finally, these other gods seemed to demand less faithfulness. These other religions were less exclusive. You were free to practice more than one of them at the same time. There was none of this “our god is the only god,” or “our way is the only way.”

Practical. Fun. Open-minded. It’s not that God wants Christian faith to be impractical and boring, but real faith deals with weightier things, issues of life and death, heaven or hell. And the God of the Bible is the only God. His way is the only way. Everything else is just imaginary. If Christianity makes exclusive truth claims, that’s because its God is the only one who actually exists.

Christians in our time seem less and less sold on these truths. According to a survey taken by the Pew Forum several years ago, the majority of Protestant Christians, the majority of Catholic Christians, and the majority of Evangelical Christians believe that many religions lead to eternal life. Now, if by “many religions” they mean “other Christian denominations” I have no argument. But if they mean non-Christian religions, they are out of tune with the warning Joshua is giving us here.

The issue is not one of Christians being better than the followers of other religions. Christians are just as bad as they are. Christians are so bad that they can be saved only by God’s grace, only by a Savior fulfilling all that God demanded instead of them, only by Jesus dying for their sins in place of them. But Christians aren’t worse than the followers of every other religion, either. No man, of any faith, can save himself by his good character or his selfless charity or his kind actions or his exceptional love. Jesus is the only Savior God has given humanity to rescue us from sin and death, because Jesus is the only Savior who has done all of the saving work for us.

Joshua’s God offers more than instant fun and success. He gives his people more than a few principles by which to live. He gives life and immortality. He paid for it by giving himself. Hold fast to him.

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